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Staying Woke

By May 26, 2016October 2nd, 2019One Comment

Photo by David Mao


There’s so much to pay attention to these days: genocide, oppression, terrorism, white supremacy, Trump. Hatefulness seems to be rampant, and people are hurting. That said, much of what is going on is simply noise and distraction, like the whine of a mosquito on the ceiling who makes it difficult to focus on what matters.

Stay woke” is an expression in my community that means to not go into denial or sleep when stuff is going down; to pay attention to what’s really going on. It is powerful language that interrupts the collective somnambulance supported and manufactured by our mainstream media and corporate advertising.

Staying woke requires commitment. It doesn’t happen without intention. It means we have to look a little deeper than we perhaps want to in order to see what’s really going on – which may be fundamentally different from the story that is being told.

The act of staying woke doesn’t mean we necessarily need to DO anything; it means we refuse to turn away from what is in front of us. As an example, I might not be able to end homelessness, but I can commit to actually seeing people on the street, to saying “good morning,” and refusing to make them invisible. This can be uncomfortable at times, but mostly it’s joyous: I care about the old woman who rests on the corner near our offices, I offer her what I can, and although we don’t speak the same language, we know we matter. There are many ways to stay woke.

It is equally important that we stay woke to what is going on inside of us. In a time when there are so many opportunities for distraction, staying woke to ourselves also requires an act of intention and will.

I find I can easily get lost in the “stories” of Facebook, forgetting that it is a carefully curated slice of input designed to capture my attention (even if some of the curation is self-designed). Recently, I found myself feeling depressed and hopeless, and realized that I’d begun to accept my social media feed as reality. That led me to see that I have choice and responsibility for my well-being, and that it’s probably in my best interest to step away from social media for a while.

If I stay woke to myself and pay attention to what is actually happening in present time, I know that this is only a moment in the arc of human history, no worse or better than other moments. Yes, I have work to do, and if I widen my view, I can see a lot to celebrate: that my beloved Oakland is alive with art and creativity, that our beloved trainer Jose Acevedo is an abuelo for the first time, and that this is a marvelous time for me to turn 60!

So I invite you to continue to awaken:

  • What are you paying attention to, and what may you need to shift?
  • What might be distracting you?
  • What might you need to stay woke to in your internal and external landscapes?

Change happens because someone wakes up and decides to shift the status quo. Those of us who are working toward change must stay woke if we are to bring about the world we seek. And since we can do nothing in isolation, we will need community to help us. This might be a good time to reach out to a few folks who know you well (your Leading Forward partner, perhaps?) and support each other in staying woke in these sleep-inducing times.

From my heart to yours,

May 2016


One Comment

  • Kelley says:

    Akaya…what a timely message. Thank you for the reminder that we all need to STAY WOKE! Thank you also for the permission to acknowledge that we do get down, but we have a responsibility to never stay down, because then we become part of the problem rather than the solution. Keep writing!
    The world needs your voice,

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